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On people's human rights (Part V)
Chien-Yuan Tseng, Ph.D

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[Part IV was published on Jnuary 22, 2003.]

5. Political function of people’s rights

Fundamental human rights conceptions have gone into structural approach phrase at the same time as the passing of the Resolution 32/130 Regarding New Concepts in Human Rights. The influence of third world countries on structural problem of world human rights originated from the Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order of 1974. The declaration claimed sovereign equality and elimination of unbalance among states. This declaration had a lot to do with the ever growing difference between North and South and world economic crisis in the 1970s. In 1977 Argentina, Cuba, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, and Iran successively brought the Resolution 32/130 Regarding New Concepts in Human Rights to discussion, but researches about imprisoned human rights, political kidnapping and disappearance, national emergency measures were postponed in consequence.

States proposing the Resolution 32/130 Regarding New Concepts in Human Rights were mostly notorious authoritarian states at that time, but this proposal also showed that it is common issue that third world countries put a lot emphasis on economic development, and viewed it as the prime strategy and target for the development of human rights. Cassess generated principles concerning human rights development in developing countries: 1. Even if it is not the absolute priority, economic, cultural, and social rights realization took a larger proportion; 2. The international economic system has to change, it has to take the responsibility for the lack of human rights and the underdeveloped situation in poor countries. Unjust international order reflects in the internal disorder in these countries; 3. Economic and social factors are the roots and origins of human rights violation, improvement in international economic relationship helps soothing the situation; 4. The international community should solve and reject exceptional cases violating basic human rights with greatest efforts, eg former apartheid practicing South Africa, former Rodesia and Israel; 5. United Nations’ resolutions were more preferable than treaties because they are more flexible while treaties have the most powerful legal effects. The internal human rights issues in third world countries were therefore transformed into structural violent problem of international political economy system. In other word, if we were unable to review and criticize the social and economic development strategy in each country in the global context, argument and accusation on any human rights issues in the respective countries would be insufficient and unfair. Countries like South Africa, Rodesia and Israel, explicitly practicing racial segregation and discrimination would be the excuse for authoritarian states when they were accused of violating human rights.

Although we agree the new concepts proposed in the resolution, we couldn’t deny the fact that there are plenty of authoritarian states in the third world. In fact, as Cassess pointed, many of the countries proposing the resolution intended to use it to exclude the effort Western countries tried to establish the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the United Nations. That is transforming international attention from human rights violating authoritarian states to concepts on social and economic rights. Moreover, the deprivation of civil and political rights does not necessarily related to social and economic rights in authoritarian states or polities. In consequence, if international economic and social aid cannot be implemented to people through democratic government, it would in turn take international economic aid as the back force to reinforce authoritarian ruling. For the people whose rights being threatened and intervened, it is undoubtedly making the matter worse.

But this article does not agree with the idea that ideological inconsistency between North/South, West/East countries would consequently result different application and explanation on people’s rights, the reasons are already stated above. What we need to look at is the function of people’s right in international politics. When the Resolution 32/130 Regarding New Concepts in Human Rights were in the voting, 126 countries voted for it, 11 Western countries waived their rights to vote. In 1982 when United Nations discussed the Resolution 37/199 Regarding Establishing New International Economic Order and People’s Rights to Development, 113 countries voted for it, only the US voted against it, other 26 Western countries waived their rights. Here it shows contrasting standing point between Western and developing / underdeveloped countries, Western countries were afraid that theories of people’s rights would destroy traditional human rights theory and also affect Western interests in post-colonial areas and countries. Non-Western countries resort to the human rights of people’s right to raise the issue of injustice of Western and neo-colonialism. To the authoritarian states, they brought the value of social rights to controvert Western accusation and critics on their undemocratic governing. This situation also shows that no country would dare to question the supremacy value of human rights explicitly. International political conflicts therefore start with the form of debates on human rights.

State is the basic unit in action in international political society, in international laws, a state is often seen as a collective social and political organization. Seeing in this light, the state is the acting body of people’s will in a collective sense. So when certain people requests people’s rights through the state and the government, the international community could only assume that action of the state is action of people. The word state has always been closely related to ruler in which meaning more or less confronting people at the same time. If concepts of people replace state, it would be more powerful to manifest the symbolic meaning of human rights for people’s rights, and avoiding critics on government ruling and human rights conditions. Also the domination of hegemonism in international political relation consequently resulted in many non-international state legal person or state with withered legal personality unable to be protected in international human rights system. So the notion of people’s rights could avoid the entangled web of international political hegemony. Moreover this reveals even more of the treatments to people in some countries or regions received from international discrimination.

Whether the argument were agreed upon or not, under the premise of equality of national sovereignties and people’s rights, the concepts of people’s rights went into international human rights laws system by third world’s support, for third world countries were of majority. That helped building up space for the development and realization of people’s rights. This article agrees that category of international human rights should be adequately controlled by their quality and quantity, to avoid the inflation of human rights concepts. This article also believes that concepts of people’s rights would be wider and wider applied as the moral basis and international legal source for national development strategies in the future. It could turn into a theoretical weapon for democratic movements around the world to fight against authoritarian states. This fact proves that the discourse of people’s rights was unavoidably born with huge political functions. The validity of the Two International Covenants of Human Rights cannot be neglected, debate on individual human rights and people’s rights would help bring maturity to international human rights laws.

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